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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Will the Secretary of State address the Chair, not only for my sake, but for the sake of the microphones?

Mr. Darling: With pleasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman also complained about the A1(M) Ferrybridge to Hook Moor road, from which he said the Government had walked away. That is surprising, because it is being built at the moment, and anyone who visits the area can see construction taking place. I therefore take the hon. Gentleman's complaints with a pinch of salt. There are undoubtedly areas in which we could do better and there are roads that remain to be built, but he and I could travel together down the A120 or the A46 and appreciate the investment by the Labour Government.

Chris Grayling: I am sorry for misleading people in that press release. I always try to rely on impeccable sources for my information, and in that case my source was the Highways Agency website, so something is clearly going wrong in the Secretary of State's Department. Perhaps he should tell the Highways Agency to provide more accurate information on which Opposition Members can rely.

Mr. Darling: I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got his information. However, if he travels down two of those roads, he will find that they have been open for some time, while the third is under construction.
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In 1989, the then Conservative Government announced some 500 road construction schemes worth £12 billion, but the programme had fallen to 150 schemes worth £7 billion by 1997. That Conservative Government axed 237 road schemes in almost every county in the country. Why did that happen? It was not because the Conservative party suddenly acquired environmental credentials. The House will recall that the early 1990s saw one of the deepest recessions of the past century. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has mentioned the exchange rate mechanism, which I can see is a fond memory. He will also remember who was special adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time. [Hon. Members: "Who?"] The current leader of the Conservative party. That Conservative Government got into difficulties because when their economic policy failed, their transport policy collapsed with it.

I am interested to know the Conservative policy on roads. On 8 November last year, the leader of the Tory party said:

That was before his election as leader of the Conservative party. At the beginning of January, however, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who heads the commission advising the Conservatives on transport policy, said:

In the space of a month, the leader said that we need a road-building programme, and the adviser said that there should be a presumption against road building. I am willing to be flexible, but I cannot see how a major road-building programme can be reconciled with a presumption against road building. That beggars belief and perhaps illustrates some of the problems that the Tories are getting themselves into. We look forward to the day when they nail their colours to the mast, because many of the nods and the winks will not be borne out.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of summarising the case that he is making very effectively is that long-term average investment in transport infrastructure in Europe is about 1 per cent. of GDP, yet in this country over the past 25 years, for two thirds of which we had Conservative Governments, it has been a full one third less than that? It takes a    substantial period, does it not, to redress underinvestment over such a lengthy period, and are we not relatively happy with the progress that has been made so far?

Mr. Darling: I think that all of us would prefer to make progress as fast as we possibly can. My hon. Friend is right to say that one of the problems with transport is that it sometimes takes a frustratingly long time to see the results.

Let me respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell. Since 2001, 35 major trunk road and motorway schemes have been completed. Fifteen are under construction and a further 21 will start in the next three years. I think that the House will recognise that, yes, there will be changes in the road programme from time to time, but we have
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been able to put money into the road programme, as we have into the railways, to ensure that we improve transport.

Mr. Redwood : I should like to clarify something for the right hon. Gentleman. Conservative policy will be expressed and defined by the leader of the party and the relevant shadow spokesmen, so he should listen to what the leader says. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) has his own views, which he will express through the policy group on the environment. As chairman of the economic competitiveness group, I will also be thinking about transport issues and will doubtless draw attention to the need for more capacity of all kinds for the sake of a growing economy. Our advice will go into the pot in 18 months' time, out of which will come a revised and even better Conservative policy than the one that we currently have. I think that that is very clear.

Mr. Darling: I certainly hope that it is better than the current policy, because there is no current policy at all. It does not matter whose policy it is—I look forward to it in any case.

Mr. Khan : My right hon. Friend talked about the legacy of the decades of underinvestment. Was he as surprised as me to hear no mention from the Opposition of the fact that more than half of our stations are inaccessible to disabled people—for example, Earlsfield in my constituency? Can he confirm that there are plans to invest more than £370 million over the next 10 years on making those stations accessible to disabled people and, for example, to young mothers with buggies?

Mr. Darling: We are very aware of that. The problem is that many of our stations were designed by the Victorians before access was considered a problem. We hope to make an announcement on that shortly.

Mr. McGovern : The other night, I had the dubious pleasure of working through the official Opposition's manifesto, largely to try to get an idea of their views on transport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any party that devotes seven lines of text in its manifesto to this very important subject does not deserve to have an Opposition day debate on it?

Mr. Darling: I am more generous; I enjoy the opportunity to explore exactly what the Conservatives' thinking is on transport. Sadly, today is no exception.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD) rose—

Mr. Darling: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. In fairness to him, I was about to say one or two things about the Liberals. Their amendment was not selected, but I can anticipate what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) is going to say because I read his press release. He circulated it for three days, but has yet to have it picked up by any of the newspapers, so I will help him out. He complains about an apparent increase in the cost of the roads programme. I draw his attention to the fact that since
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2003—I make no bones about this—we have built in a so-called optimism bias, because some of the costs were not realistic.

There has also been an increase in construction costs. The comment by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell about bulldozers in garages is simply not true—would that it were, in some ways. The problem is that so much construction is going on that there has been some inflation in construction costs. That is why these projects are costing more. Often when the optimism bias is built in, it reduces as the costs bottom out. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington agrees with his acting leader, who said in The Scotsman today that he thought that public expenditure was high enough and that the Liberals would no longer campaign for an increase in it. The Liberals' normal position is that we ought to spend more, not less, on transport.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I am happy with the position that the acting leader has adopted.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the parliamentary answer that I received from him states that, taking VAT, inflation and optimism bias into account, there is an overrun of £1 billion on road-building projects from before 2003?

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